11-year-old Merci is part of a close Hispanic family living in Florida. She and her parents were born in the U.S. and her grandparents (she calls them Abuela and Lolo) were born in Cuba. Merci is just starting 6th grade at prestigious private academy, but she feels intimidated because her father is a house painter and her mother runs a bakery. She is even more intimidated by her leader-of-the pack insulting classmate, Edna.
Home is a different matter. Her extended family lives in a group of four small houses they bought together. Everyone helps each other out, although Merci is upset that she is forced to babysit her twin-terror nephews. Her happy home life starts to have cracks in it when she begins noticing that Lolo is forgetting things, losing his balance, and getting lost on the way home. As adults, we know right away what this is, and Merci’s family knows, too; but they have avoided telling her. It’s a well-written book, with the kind of deeper issues that fit with a Newbery Award. It would be a fine read-aloud for a class setting, as long as the reader is comfortable with some Spanish phrases, most of which can be easily understood in context. There is some humor and a lot of classroom action, as the 6th grade class members sort out the new “pecking order” that comes with pre-puberty and with switching classrooms and teachers every period. It does have a bit of a slow start, but stick with it.